“Your move,” Applejack mumbled as Twilight stared off into space. The unicorn returned her gaze to the chessboard. At any other time, this might have been an intensely calculated battle of wits. Twilight had appeared increasingly troubled since Rarity had embarked upon her mission. She inched a pawn forward hesitantly as if doubtful of its prospects.
Spike walked by and pointed out the move Applejack needed to make for a checkmate. He set down another tray of Rarity-themed cupcakes. “Don’t eat them all before Rarity gets here. She never ended up getting any last time... Hey, what are you both so worried about?”
“Oh, nothin’ in partic’lar,” replied Applejack, trying and failing to sound convincing.
At that moment, Rarity threw the door open and galloped into the room. A strange jumble of emotions played on her face. It was clear that she had been through some sort of ordeal.
“So?” Twilight asked expectantly.
“I’m sorry Spike, but could you excuse us?” Rarity asked hastily.
“But I made you cupcakes again,” he protested.
Applejack peeled the wrapper from a cupcake before taking a satisfying bite. “Aw, let him stay. He’s old enough to hear.”
“Perhaps you do not realize how much more embarrassing this whole situation is for me than it is for you.”
The little dragon gave a gentlemanly bow. “No problem, Rarity. If you want your privacy, I’d be glad to go out and catch some sunshine,” he exited the library.
“Isn’t he just darling?” Rarity cooed as she took a seat at the chess table.
“What about Rainbow Dash? Was she 'just darling’ too?” Applejack asked, elbowing Rarity playfully.
“Ow! And no, despite my best efforts, which were considerable, Rainbow Dash is surprisingly straight.”
Twilight facehooved. “How could we have been so obtuse? It was obvious that this was a bad idea. We’re really letting this search for the father get to our heads.”
Rarity brightened up at this. “I do have some good news about that. Rainbow told me that the father is somepony crazy like Pinkie and that there was some reason why he could not be here.”
“Why would she tell you that?” Twilight questioned. “I thought she 'Pinkie promised' not to tell us anything about it.”
The white unicorn began idly rearranging some of the chess pieces while she thought. “I suspect she was feeling rather sorry for me after mocking me so dreadfully for my attempt to seduce her.”
“I reckon it wasn’t a total waste then. Ya really took one for the team, Rarity,” Applejack said, giving her friend an encouraging thump on the back. “I’ll do the seducin’ next time it comes up.”
Rarity suddenly stopped playing with the chess pieces. “You weren’t in the middle of a game were you?”
“No, AJ just beat me,” Twilight laughed.
Applejack stood up and began pacing the floor. “We sure do have our work cut out for us. How in tarnation are we s’posed ta think of a pony as crazy as Pinkie?”
A knock sounded at the library door. “Hey, it’s me. Can I come in?” came Spike’s voice. Twilight opened the door for him, but was surprised at who she saw before her. Spike was accompanied by the three fillies who immediately scampered into the room. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle went to greet their sisters. Scootaloo entertained herself by running around the room in circles, knocking over a few potted plants.
“Are you okay, Rarity?” Sweetie Belle asked, concern showing in her eyes.
“Why of course I'm okay. What would give you an idea to the contrary?”
“We were trying to find you because Rainbow Dash said that you were acting really weird earlier.”
“Well that is true,” she said with a coy smile. “Wait a second, why was Rainbow Dash out and about? By all rights she should have continued cleaning that messy house of hers after I left... Did you see where she was going?”
“She said she was lookin’ for Pinkie Pie,” Apple Bloom piped up. “We told her that the last we saw o’ Pinkie was when we were congratulatin’ her on bein’ pregnant.”
Everypony in the room was immediately staring at the little filly.
“Well, so much for the Cutie Mark Crusader Secret Keepers,” Scootaloo said exasperated, stepping next to Apple Bloom and eyeing her sternly.
“Oh shoot, did I just say that?” Apple Bloom bashed her forehead on the table surface as if to physically punish herself for her careless slip of the tongue. The chess pieces scattered and rolled on the floor.
Spike looked around annoyed. “Okay, the game is up. Now you have to tell me what's going on.”
“Pinkie got pregnant, but won’t tell us who the father is,” Twilight explained.
“We know who the father is.” Sweetie Belle said with a smile.
“Ugh! Whatever happened to secret keeping?” Scootaloo complained.
“I’m not gonna tell them who it is. That’s technically the only thing we promised not to say,” Sweetie Belle replied.
“Well then Apple Bloom here will tell us.” Applejack declared, mussing her little sister’s hair.
“No I won’t!”
Applejack glanced about the now considerably more crowded library room and settled on the platter of delicious cupcakes. She picked one up and offered it. “I’ll give ya this here gour-mett cupcake if ya tell us.”
Apple Bloom refused the bribe. “It’s pronounced ‘gourmet.’”
“How would ya know a thing like that?”
“I remember it from when I had the fancy talk cutie mark, back when I had the Cutie Pox.”
Applejack was yet to be deterred in her efforts. “I’ll do all o’ your homework for a week.”
“You’re hardly better at my homework than I am. Besides, I’m not supposed to break promises. I told Pinkie I wouldn’t tell anypony about this and if I tell y’all about it that’ll make me a big liar.”
Applejack sighed. “Sorry little sis. It’s just that Twilight, Rarity, and me have been tryin’ real hard ta figure this out for a couple o’ days. You should keep your promise ta Pinkie. I’m proud o’ ya for not givin’ in to my shenanigans.”
“Not so fast,” Rarity interjected. “I’ve been through too much trouble to go for months not knowing. One of you little fillies is going to tell us who it is.”
“Or what? You won’t let us have cupcakes?” Scootaloo asked tauntingly as she snatched one of them from the platter and swallowed it whole.
A grim expression crossed Rarity’s face. “I’ll whine at you until you tell me. You don’t want that do you?”
Scootaloo’s eyes went wide. Something seemed to be amiss with her. She did not respond, but stood there making an odd motion with her head.
“Uh, Scootaloo? Are you okay?” Twilight asked, approaching with concern.
Applejack snatched the little pegasus up and squeezed her in such a way that she spat out a cupcake wrapper she had been choking on. “Careful what kinda fibers ya eat,” the orange mare said gently as she set Scootaloo down.
“Wow, you just saved my life,” she gasped, peering up at Applejack thankfully.
Rarity put her nose in the air. “This changes nothing. I’m still going to throw a fit if one of you little fillies doesn’t come forward with the information we need.”
Scootaloo hesitated, still catching her breath. “Alright, alright, I’ll give you a hint, but I’m not telling who it is, because I’ve heard really, really bad things happen to you if you break a 'Pinkie promise,'” she said, taking a deep breath. “The dad lives in Canterlot.”
“Scootaloo! You’re giving too much away,” Sweetie Belle complained.
“Oh and you haven’t? I was the one who wanted to keep the secret. Besides, they’ll still never guess who it is just with what we’ve said. It’s just too weird.”
“Let’s get outta here before we totally break our promise ta Pinkie,” Apple Bloom suggested. “We can still be the Cutie Mark Crusader Partial Secret Keepers.”
Sweetie Belle shook her head and sighed. “That just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I guess keeping secrets probably isn’t our special talent either.”
“Come on Crusaders, we’ve still got time to earn our cutie marks today,” Scootaloo said optimistically as she dashed over to the door and opened it for her friends as they trotted off.
“Thank you for aiding us in our search, we won’t ask you about it anymore,” Rarity called after them sweetly.
“See you later, big sister,” Sweetie Belle called as she and her friends waved goodbye. They scampered out of sight, forgetting to close the library door.
Rarity turned to Spike with a devious look on her face. “Follow them, infiltrate the group, and see if they let any more information slip. With them knowing who the father is, it’s only a matter of time before we catch up.”
Spike gave a salute and ran out the open door to pursue the fillies, also forgetting to close the door.
An aura of violet magic enveloped the door, closing it automatically. Twilight turned to her friends. “Girls I think we’re taking this too far. Do we really need Spike to stalk your sisters?”
“Aw, what’s the worst that could happen?” asked Applejack. “Maybe he’ll end up bein’ friends with ‘em. The little guy seems kind of lonely. He could do with the social time.”
Rarity drew close to her friends and began whispering. “Actually, my intention was simply to remove Spike from our presence. I believe I know who the father is, though you won’t like the answer.”
“How gosh awful bad could it be if it’s not Rainbow Dash or my brother?”
“It’s Discord,” Rarity whispered, giving a small shutter.
Twilight raised an eyebrows in disbelief. “That seems pretty out there, Rarity.”
“No, consider this; he lives in Canterlot, if you can call that living. The crusader secret keepers, such as they were, said we’d never guess because the answer was too bizarre. Dash also told me something along the same lines. Furthermore, if Discord is indeed the father, that would more than explain Pinkie’s hesitation to tell us.”
“But she’d tell little fillies about that?” Twilight asked dubiously.
Applejack adjusted her hat and scratched her chin in thought. “What if that’s her way o’ tellin’ us who it is without havin’ ta do it herself. She couldn’t really spect that the fillies ta keep a big ol' secret like that could she?”
“Perhaps, but if Discord isn’t stone anymore wouldn’t the whole world be swimming in chaos?” Twilight asked, while she picked up chess pieces from the floor.
Rarity finally took a bite from one of Spike’s cupcakes. She savored the rich sweetness a few moments before answering. “He might be attempting a more subtle scheme this time. After all, just jumping out in everypony’s face and strutting around like he ruled the world did not exactly pan out for him last time.”
Applejack disposed of the cupcake wrapper Scootaloo had coughed up. When she turned back to her friends, she stomped her hoof on the floor to gain their attention. “I’ve had it with all this here scheming, sneaking around, and doin’ all matter of dishonest things. I say we just go and talk ta Pinkie about this. She must want to tell us pretty badly. If there is some problem revolvin’ around the dad, we’ve gotta help her with it.”
When Applejack, Rarity, and Twilight, arrived at Sugarcube Corner, they were surprised to see the rest of their friends huddled around a table near the back of the main room. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie were sitting side-by-side across a table from Fluttershy. She sat blushing and smiling sweetly as she whispered with them.
“They’ll tell Fluttershy, but not us?” Rarity complained under her breath.
"You're making too many assumptions," Twilight said quietly.
“Oh hey girls!” Pinkie snatched her friends and set them around the table with Dash and Fluttershy. “We were just coming up with a brilliant scheme to help Fluttershy get a date with Big Mac! You guys should help us. This is going to be so much fun. Isn’t it sweet that Fluttershy has a crush? Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t? I’m so excited I could sing a song about it!”
“Not so fast there,” Applejack said through gritted teeth as she bit Pinkie’s tail to prevent her from jumping up to begin the song.
“We wanted to ask you if Discord is the dad,” Twilight said as Pinkie sat down.
The pink pony laughed at this. “Where do you come up with this stuff? Discord is a total meanie. The only good thing he ever did was give us a bunch of cotton candy and chocolate rain.”
Rarity looked into Pinkie’s eyes urgently. “If there is a problem we want very much to help you.”
“Ya don’t have ta be embarrassed about your actions, Pinkie. We’ve been trying so hard to find out who the father is, but frankly I’d rather give up and let ya keep your secret if ya’d prefer it that way. We’re still mighty curious ta be sure, but, at the end o’ the day, we’d just like ta be there for ya. This whole thing is really turnin’ inta a wild goose chase.”
Fluttershy frowned at this metaphor. “That sounds kind of mean,” she said quietly.
Pinkie smiled sheepishly at her friends. “It’s good you’re not mad at me. Maybe I’m being a meanie to not tell you.”
Fluttershy put her hoof across the table to place it over Pinkie’s. She stared into her eyes understandingly. “You’re not being mean. It’s very hard to admit something you’re embarrassed about. I might never have admitted that I like Big Mac, but Rainbow Dash figured it out.”
"I figured it out because I'm really smart," Dash bragged.